Note: this post talks about the death of a friend – just a heads up.
Life is a mosaic, and Monday was one of those days that had all the pieces of it: the mundane, the fun, the profoundly sorrowful.
There were little moments of gratitude for things that work. One of my children woke up with what was clearly pink-eye. As a veteran parent, I could easily diagnose this, and I know it is no big deal, but it still means a kid is home from school and needs to get treated. I had to leave for the airport by 8:30 a.m. to go to Louisville to give a speech that night. Fortunately, my husband has this virtual doctor service through work, and we got the phone propped up against a box of Lucky Charms, so a physician sitting in his own living room could take a look at my kid’s eye. The prescription was called in, and G could go pick it up. I got to the airport on time.
The flight was quick and landed early. My driver took me to downtown Louisville where I was then picked up at my hotel by a gray minivan driven by none other than Anne Bogel.
Longtime readers know I am a big fan of Modern Mrs. Darcy. I have been reading the blog for years. Anne was a guest on Best of Both Worlds a few months ago, and I was a guest on What Should I Read Next? as well. We’d exchanged emails and blog comments (and she has graciously written about my books) for years, but I had never met her in person.
Louisville provided the chance. She was delightful. We had coffee and talked about the workings of the Modern Mrs. Darcy empire, and her next book projects (including an exciting book of essays coming out this fall) and mine. Alas, neither of us thought to take a photo, so you’re just going to have to take my word about it. I had been much looking forward to this get-together, and was thrilled it happened.
I went back to the hotel for 45 minutes to get ready for an appearance on WHAS (the Louisville ABC affiliate). As I was sitting there waiting to be interviewed, the anchor was giving updates about the helicopter crash in NYC. My husband and I had talked about this crash for a long time the night before — we were both so disturbed by it. We used to live right by the East River, and I ran by the heliport every day. It had struck me as such a horrible way to go, trapped and sinking in an icy river. But then the anchor soon moved on, in the way local news goes, to talking about my appearance that night at Norton Healthcare’s Go Confidently speaker series. I did my best to drum up interest in the event. Then I took off to go to the event itself.
I was reading my email in the back of the car when I got a message that took my breath away.
For many years, I was the president of the board of directors of the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus in NYC. I stepped back when kid #4 was born, and we eventually handed the reigns over to a very capable and energetic young man who had great ideas for the choir.
A mutual friend sent me a note: he had been on that helicopter, and now he was gone.
There is no good way to describe this — just the kick in the gut feeling when you learn someone wonderful has died senselessly. I spent the next hour as I was in the green room obsessively reading headlines about the accident. The memories come back in the way they do. He had a gorgeous baritone voice. I remember him singing the solo at the start of “Stomp Your Foot” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land. Stomp your foot upon the floor! Just ringing out into the audience, a voice that seemed to bring in spring. Throw the windows open! He was funny too. At one point I’d been recounting some shade I had gotten for being pregnant with kid #3 (two being the acceptable replacement number). He joked that he wasn’t planning on having kids, so it could be like a carbon trading scheme and I could have his kid credits.
I have been picturing the choir coming to practice as they do on Tuesdays and trying to sing through it together. As our director said, thank God there is music because there are no words.
So I was obsessively thinking through all this when it was time to go out and speak to 400 people about how to manage their time. In moments like this, I am acutely aware that time management does not seem like a profound topic. We are spinning on an improbable planet in the middle of cold space. A young man with a rich and enthusiastic voice gets on a helicopter and a few hours later is being cut out of his harness. And here I am talking about turning a 30-minute meeting into a 20-minute one.
Yet one of the questions at the end got me thinking about this. Someone asked me which was my favorite book — a bit like asking about one’s favorite kid — but I noted that I Know How She Does It most explicitly gets at the message I am always trying to share when I am up on stage. I wrote IKHSDI because there are many forces in the world that try to convince women in particular to limit their aspirations, but the truth is that the busy-busy-busy message limits everyone. Maybe it’s not about a traditional family per se, but the message of never having enough time can keep people from thinking they can nurture their artistic aspirations while also making a living. It keeps them from thinking they can lead a community non-profit while being a dedicated friend to so many people too. And if people think these things, then the world will miss out on their gifts.
While I do believe we have more time than we think in the day to day march of life, life is ultimately short. Sometimes it is tragically short but even when it is long, we only have so much of it. Part of getting a grasp on time is being able to use our time to achieve what we feel called to do in our short time on earth. Whatever that calling happens to be. Men, women, anyone.
So I spoke of this. And then it was back home, back to the mundane details of daily existence, mundane details that seem more poignant whenever we are reminded of how fragile they are. The eye drops. Stomping around with the 3-year-old. Throw the windows open. Take a breath of fresh June air and dance around the room…as I keep hearing that voice so full of life.